How to Teach Addition in Kindergarten (in 5 Steps)

February 15, 2021

Teaching addition to kindergarten students is one of those building blocks of math that begins after students have developed number sense. In this post, I am going to share 5 steps to teach students addition to make sure they retain their learning.

Step 1: explicit teaching & number sense knowledge

Kindergarten students shouldn’t work on addition until they have mastered number sense. They should be able to identify numbers 0-10 and understand what each number represents. I have this fun, hands on number sense unit that can help with that.

Once students have a solid grasp of numbers 0-10, we can begin addition. Explicit, modeled teaching is an important part of teaching every new skill. Students need to learn what addition is and how to add.

To aide in the explicit teaching of this, I like to use a simple anchor chart when explaining what addition is (to join or put together) and then I show students many different examples of addition within 10. When doing this, I use cubes, illustrations on the board, I have students stand up in front of the class, put them in groups, and add students! Each time I use verbiage like:

– these 3 blue cubes PLUS these 2 red cubes EQUAL 5

– when I ADD the 4 students with brown hair and the 3 students with black hair I get a SUM of 7

– I am noticing as I ADD and put things TOGETHER, I am always getting MORE


By using this terminology students can get used to the different words we use when talking about addition. Step 1 is all about telling and showing students exactly what addition looks like so they are better able to do it themselves!


Step 2: Use Manipulatives

Alright, now it is your students’ turn! They’ve learned what addition is and they saw how to do it. Now, they need to practice adding things together themselves.

You can do this with many different manipulatives you find in your classroom: cubes, counters, bears, anything! I like to have students sort their addends by color when doing this so they can more easily see the two different groups that are being added together. When having students practice addition using manipulatives, I like to give them either a printable page or a whiteboard with this blank equation on it:

As you guide students (“grab three blue cubes and two red cubes. How many do you have in all?”), students will practice filling that equation saying, “3 plus 2 equals 5.” Having students use something tangible to physically put together allows them to see addition right in front of them. As students become more comfortable with this guided practice activity, you can let them practice putting 5 red cubes and 5 blue cubes in a cup or a paper bag. Then, students can shake the bag, close their eyes and pull out 5 cubes at random. Then they will sort by color and make their own addition sentence by writing and saying the equation as they did above!


Step 3: Decomposition
This decomposing activity is found in my Kindergarten Hands On Addition unit.

Once students get the hang of taking two groups of items, adding them together, and finding a sum, it’s a good time for them to start recognizing that we can make the same number many different ways. This is when we start practicing decomposing numbers. In the Kindergarten Common Core Standards, this standard reads: K.OA.A.3 – decompose numbers less than or equal to 10 into pairs in more than one way. E.g. by using objects or drawings and record each decomposition by a drawing or equation.

To do this, I love using the above activity, called “Magic Bag Addition.” In this game, students will put a bunch of red and blue cubes (you can choose any 2 different color cubes) into a bag. There are number cards within 10 that students will choose as their number to put on their decomposing mats. Working together, or independently, students take turns pulling out that many cubes and sorting them onto the blue or red circles. Then, they create a number “train” as shown above on the left. They do this twice to show 2 different ways to make the target number! I like to have them show their two equations on the recording sheet (on the right) so they can record the equations. Then, students put all the cubes back, choose a new target number, and repeat!

When we teach students to decompose numbers they can begin to see different relationships and value in numbers. They can visualize the amounts by looking at the manipulatives and then attach the numeral to it when writing the equation. It helps them see that any number (example: 10) isn’t just 10 single units (1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1), but it can be 8+2, 3+7, etc. These skills transfer into place value as they learn to decompose 2 digit numbers into 10s and 1s (eg. 15 = 10 + 5).


Step 4: Repetition is Key
This addition activity is included in my Kindergarten Hands On Addition Unit.

Like with many skills, students need lots of repetition to really master a skill. Students need to be introduced to the topic, learn about the topic, then practice, practice, practice. The magic bag addition activity shown in step 3 is one I love because it can be used over and over again and can be different each time students play! In the image above, is another math center created to help students practice number decomposition in a different way. If students have practiced using cubes like in Magic Bag Addition, they should also try decomposing by looking at different images.

In the activity shown above, students must sort the picture cards under the correct headers. There are two different ways to make each number using different illustrations. Then, students will write the two different equations and ways to make that number on their recording sheet. The more repetition you can give students practicing a certain skill, the faster they will become fluent with the skill.


Step 5: Games!

Speaking of fluency, one of my favorite ways to help students practice addition (really, most skills) is through engaging and educational games! I love to spend a lot of time creating meaningful, standards-aligned games that are not only fun to play, but also help students with their fluency!

This game is from my Kindergarten Print & Play Addition Games unit.

Above is an example of one of my print and play addition games to help students practice decomposing numbers. Students roll 2 dice and find the corresponding number bond. They will need to solve the number bond, then color that number on the right grid. Students take turns going back and forth until all the problems are solved. Whoever colors in the most numbers on the grid, wins! I made 6 different games to put in math centers. They are all print and play so they require no-prep!

To see the different centers and games I like to use when teaching kindergarten addition, see the two below:

Hands-On Kindergarten Addition:

These activities are best for learning about the skill and repetition (Steps 2-4). These focus a lot on using manipulatives and all the centers are standards-based. This unit also includes 15 different kindergarten addition worksheets for students to practice.


The print and play games I love when teaching kindergarten addition are found here:

These games are my FAVORITE for practicing fluency! I showed one above (in step 5), but for each skill, there are 6 unique games that can be played with a partner or independently. Just click above to see them!

So there are 5 easy steps to teaching addition in kindergarten! Do you have any other tips or ideas for teaching kindergarten addition? Share them in the comments below!


Pin this blog post to remember:

Wondering how to teach addition in kindergarten? In this blog post, I share 5 steps to help your kindergarten students practice and understand addition within 10! Head over to the post to see fun ideas, activities, games, and worksheets for practicing addition!

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